Family Law

Monday, February 22, 2016

Grandparents Have Rights Too!

What are the grandparent visitation rights in Oklahoma?

Unfortunately, many marriages end in separation or divorce which can have dramatic consequences on the entire family, including grandparents. The divorce process involves resolving a number of issues, including child custody and visitation rights. Courts generally prefer to grant legal and physical custody of children to both parents.

In cases where a court awards one parent sole physical custody, however, it usually awards the non-custodial parent reasonable visitation rights. Of course, giving the complexities of family life today, grandparents also have visitation rights.

The laws regarding grandparent visitation rights in Oklahoma are detailed, designed to grant visitation rights to grandparents providing such visitations are in the best interests of the child. In order to be granted these rights, a grandparent must be able to show that the child would suffer harm without visitation, or that the parents are unfit.

What factors do the courts consider is granting grandparent visitation rights?

In determining what is in the best interest of the child, the law provides for a number of factors, including:

  • The importance to the child of continuing the relationship with the grandparent
  • The age and preference of the child
  • The emotional ties between the parent and child
  • The nature of the preexisting grandparental relationship
  • The mental and physical health of the grandparent
  • The mental and physical health of the child
  • The mental and physical health of the parent
  • The permanence and stability of the family unit and environment

Parental Unfitness

In some cases, parental unfitness may also be grounds for grandparent visitation rights. Parental unfitness includes:

  • Chemical or alcohol dependency
  • A history of violent behavior or domestic abuse
  • An emotional or mental illness that impairs judgment
  • A failure to provide the child with proper care, guidance and support

In most cases, visitation rights also require that there was a strong, continuous pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild. Finally, a number of situations can arise that lead to visitation rights being sought, such as death, divorce, incarceration and desertion. If you are seeking visitation rights of your grandchild, you should consult with an attorney who has expertise in family law.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Foster Parents Sue Oklahoma Department of Human Service for Violating Gun Ownership Rights

When do state requirements for adopting or foster-parenting a child go too far?

Becoming an adoptive or foster parent can be an obstacle course. Would-be parents must be able to demonstrate their fitness to raise children in ways that biological parents do not. They have to prove that they not only understand the responsibilities of accepting and loving a child but also have the resources to meet a child's practical needs. Interviews, background checks, financial inquiries, home assessments, and other evaluations are all part of this process.

But some adoption requirements could violate the constitutional rights of prospective parents. Since 2014, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has barred adoptive and foster parents from possessing firearms in a number of circumstances. The OKDHS requires foster and adoptive parents to sign a "Weapons Safety Agreement" providing that parents keep weapons locked in storage when not in use, that they not carry weapons if a child is present unless required to by their employer, and that they make sure that weapons in a car are unloaded and in a locked container. The agency considers these safety measures rather than a ban on owning guns.

The plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit, a married couple with a history of raising numerous foster and adopted children, don't agree. In their view, the rule deprives them of the right to possess and carry weapons for self-defense when around their adoptive or foster children. One of the plaintiffs has had a concealed carry permit for over a decade but fears carrying a weapon lest it result in his children being taken away.

According to the suit, by preventing adoptive and foster parents from lawfully possessing guns and by treating them differently from other law-abiding parents, the policy violates the couple's rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as under Oklahoma's state constitution. They are seeking an injunction to block enforcement of the policy.

The agency says it is reviewing its policies on foster parents who have firearms permits, though the safety of children remains its priority.

Not all those applying to adopt or foster-parent a child in Oklahoma will find the firearms policy burdensome. But other requirements may prove too intrusive or onerous. The help of a concerned and committed adoption attorney can level the playing field when state agencies overreach, helping prospective parents—and the children they hope to raise—achieve their dreams. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shelton and Lambert’s Divorce File Sealed

Can you have your divorce file sealed from public view in the state of Oklahoma?

Most of the time divorce is not pretty. It is therefore understandable that some people would prefer to keep the details of their divorces private. When celebrities divorce, this can become a problem because there are usually various individuals and media news sources searching for information about the case. If parties wish to conceal certain information from the public, they can ask to have the records of the case sealed. Such is the case with country music stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. 

Shelton and Lambert were married for 4 years and resided in Oklahoma. Shelton filed for divorce on July 6, 2015 in Pottawatomie County. The couple was officially divorced by decree July 20, 2015. Judge John Gardner of Pottawatomie County decided to seal the couple's divorce records. Unfortunately, many have found this to be contrary to state law.

In Oklahoma, according to state law passed in November 2014, in order to seal the records of a case, there must be a privacy interest that is greater than that of the public interest in the information sealed. Representative Aaron Stiles has said that he cannot see how this test in met in this case. Rather, he believes the case was sealed due to the couple’s celebrity status. Are other wealthy and/or well-known Oklahoma citizens asking for their cases to be sealed? Is this a privilege the state only allows to upper class citizens? Without these questions answered, Stiles is concerned about fairness. Judge Gardner has defended his decision stating that allowing the couple’s divorce record to be public would compromise their personal and financial privacy.  Still, many are not convinced.

If you are facing a divorce and have concerns about privacy, you need a lawyer you can trust to fight for your rights. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unaffordable Child Support Orders are said to motivate poor non-custodial fathers to stop working and paying, the opposite of the intended effect.

The original idea behind the American child support system was to force deadbeat dads with income to pay for the custodial parent’s raising of the child. But United States child support debt is currently estimated at $113 billion dollars.

The problem that some see with the current state of affairs is that a large majority of this child support debt is owed by those making less than $10,000 a year. This support is owed by poor parents who have shown that they cannot pay. One study has found that among parents with reported annual incomes of $10,000 or less, the median child support order represents 83% of their paycheck. Some are now finding out that such a burden has succeeded in motivating such non-custodial parents to discontinue working.

Recently there has been a push by some to change practices and policies that some say are not appropriately calibrated for today’s economic times and to discontinue this backwards motivation. For example, Vicki Turetsky of the Office of Child Support Enforcement has stated that courts often “impute” income to the noncustodial parent when none exists. This means that courts will base child support payments on a full time minimum wage job, even when the noncustodial parent does not have one.

In addition, child support debt cannot be erased by bankruptcy or the growing up of a child. It can result in incarceration, which can make matters worse. On top of that, it can encourage young mothers to become dependent on young fathers who are just as poor. In an even worse scenario, some young fathers who are incarcerated can sometimes accrue child support arrears while in jail with no way to pay them. And when they are released to the community they have a difficult time finding work due to their criminal record, making it even harder to pay these arrears off.


One idea which has been floated around is forbidding such child support arrears from accruing while the non custodial parent is incarcerated. The idea is said to have bipartisan support. But other measures that go farther do not appear have Republican support, as they are said to undermine the principle of personal responsibility that is an important part of the current system.

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